Critical thinking is a vital component of science and of true skepticism. Critical thinking involves conforming to scientific principles and engaging in rigorous logical reasoning. Uncritical thinking then subverts the scientific process and uses illogic, usually in the form of logical fallacies. Many would like to think that current US foreign policy is based on critical thinking but is it really?
The official theory of the pivotal events of 9/11, the falls of the Twin Towers and WTC 7, has no credible verifiable scientific evidence to support it. As such, this theory is faith-based not science-based. Like other faith-based theories such as young Earth creationism, its proponents often resort to illogical or fallacious reasoning. Let’s look at the most common fallacies and deceptive debating techniques the official 9/11 faithful use.
Argument from Authority
The bulk of “support” for the official story of 9/11 comes from pronouncements from authorities. Right after 9/11 government analysts pronounced that Bin laden and al-Qaeda were behind 9/11. Many of us believed these statements simply because they came from experts. If you state something is true simply because an authority said it was true you are committing the appeal to authority fallacy.
Another common form of this argument is to state that a claim is true because it is backed up with peer-reviewed studies. For example, 9/11 “debunkers” will spuriously point to the Bazant paper to “prove” that fire alone brought down the Twin Towers. The problem is that the peer-review process is merely part of the scientific error checking process. Peer review does not guarantee a study is gospel. All peer review does is to help ensure obvious errors are detected. The paper “A Bacterium That Can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus.” clearly shows how the peer-review process does not guarantee valid science. The Bazant paper itself has been shown to be exceptionally flawed.
The Argument from Authority also occurs if someone states that a study or line of evidence is invalid because it has not been published in a mainstream peer-reviewed journal. Science is science no matter where it is practiced. If someone conducts an easily replicable experiment and posts a video of it on the Internet, that science stands until someone can prove it wrong.
A red herring is simply an argumentative device designed to lead attention away from a particular topic. Put simply, a red herring is an attempt to change the subject. This device is often used in 9/11 debates. For example, when discussing Building 7, official 9/11 myth proponents often try to shift attention toward discussing the Twin Towers or the Pentagon which are easier for them to deceptively claim victories over.
Red herrings are a sign you are dealing with a manipulative person. To deal with these people the most important thing to do is not fall for their bait. Always direct the discussion back to the main point and for the benefit of observers note that they are attempting to shift focus.
There are several forms of the Ad Hominem fallacy. In 9/11 related arguments we mainly see the forms abusive, tu quoque, circumstantial and guilt by association.
The ad hominem abusive logical fallacy involves verbally attacking a person or group instead of their argument as an attempt to persuade others that the argument is wrong. 9/11 researchers are regularly called stupid, insane or the old Orwellian doublethink standby, “conspiracy theorist” as an excuse to ignore their arguments. In Internet discussion groups, dissenting 9/11 skeptics are often called trolls simply because the majority of the group believes the official story without question. By merely pronouncing someone a “troll” often the dissenter can then easily be silenced by excommunication for violating the rule of “no trolling”.
The ad hominem tu quoque form occurs when a criticism is avoided by turning it back on the accuser. For example, if a 9/11 skeptic criticizes official story believers for having no evidence at all to explain the fall of the WTC towers, the believer responds that the skeptics can’t adequately explain the less relevant fact that Al-Qaeda admitted to the attacks and many others.
A form of ad hominem circumstantial occurs when an opponent’s circumstances are attacked instead of his arguments. For example, a debater responds to a physicist’s argument by showing a picture of the physicist in a clown costume at a charity event. Instead of dealing with the physicist’s argument, an attempt is made to manipulate the audience into believing the physicist is a bumbling incompetent and thus anything he says is suspect.
Guilt by association occurs when an opponent is attacked because he holds a position that is also held by some disreputable group. For example, suppose a mass murderer was found to be highly skeptical of the official 9/11 story. People that use this event as “proof” that 9/11 skeptics are dangerous are employing the guilt by association fallacy.
Argument from Incredulity
The argument from incredulity occurs when an argument is rejected because the person finds the argument too difficult to believe. For example, 9/11 “debunkers” often imply that the WTC controlled demolition theory is false because it would be too difficult to keep all the people involved quiet. They can’t believe that the WTC could have been a controlled demolition simply because they lack the imagination to consider that it could be done.
The false cause (post hoc ergo propter hoc) is an argument where because one event preceded another, the first event caused the second event. For example, believers of the official 9/11 myth sometimes actually point to the fact that WTC 7 was on fire as evidence that the building came down solely because of fire. A conclusion can’t be based only on the order of events. You can’t say a preceding event caused another event unless you rule out all other possible factors that might have caused the event.
This argument involves an unsupported pronouncement expected to be taken on faith. Almost immediately after 9/11 the disaster was blamed on al Qaeda and Bin Laden even though no evidence existed so support this explanation. These claims then are examples of bare assertion fallacies. Bare assertions can be very convincing to most people when uttered with utmost confidence.
This argument states that a conclusion is wrong because of its source. 9/11 “debunkers” will often reject any paper simply because it was published in the “Journal of 9/11 Studies” for example. A scientific paper is bad if you can show that the science in the paper is wrong. Where science is published is irrelevant to its merit. The paper called “A Bacterium That Can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus.” published in the prestigious journal “Science” clearly shows that where science is published does not guarantee valid science.
The equivocation fallacy occurs when two different meanings of a word are confused. Usually the original word used has strong connotations. Then that use is defended using a word with weaker connotations. For example, a 9/11 skeptic might point out that WTC 7 was in free fall for eight stories. A 9/11 believer might respond that free fall can only occur in a vacuum. The believer is equivocating the rarely used precise definition of free fall with the practical use which ignores the negligible resistance due to air on very large objects.
Argument from Conspiracy
This argument states that a theory is wrong or suspect merely because it involves a conspiracy, typically involving the government or large corporations. Conspiracies do happen. The history of civilization is a history of conspiracy. Before these conspiracies were uncovered they were conspiracy theories. There is nothing wrong then with entertaining a conspiracy theory provided it best accounts for the evidence. The Gulf of Tonkin incident is the case of a conspiracy theory that turned out to be true. This incident resulted in the brutal carnage of the Vietnam War. In 2005 we learned that the US lied that the Vietnamese attacked US forces on August 4, 1964 when in fact all they were doing was salvaging the torpedo boats attacked by the US two days before. The US also lied that the Vietnamese attacked first on August 2 when in fact it was the USS Maddox that fired first.
Gish Galloping involves spewing forth a list of arguments to bog down an opponent. The idea is to burden the opponent so they will be less likely to respond making it appear as a win. When asking for evidence to back up their claims, 9/11 “debunkers” may produce a lengthy series of links to articles and other information. They may also refer to a book to support a specific claim without mentioning page numbers.
PRATT – Point Refuted a Thousand Times
A PRATT is an easily refuted point that is unpleasant to maintain refuting. 9/11 “debunkers” regularly use PRATTs like the fact that WTC 7 was not in free fall from start to finish to deal with the eight-story free fall period that WTC 7 did in fact experience. Arguments are also sometimes labelled as PRATTs as a diversionary tactic to avoid dealing with an irrefutable argument. For example, when pointing out that the official explanation of how WTC 7 came down has no supporting evidence whatsoever, a “debunker” may simply indignantly label the argument as a PRATT as an excuse to walk away.
Appeal To Force
In this argument a threat is made against the opponent instead of refuting his argument. This fallacy can often be seen in presumed “science” and “skeptic” forums when discussing the topic of 9/11. Instead of dealing with the arguments you are threatened with expulsion for merely presenting an argument that conflicts with their unwavering unsupportable beliefs.
Proof By Example
Proof by example occurs when one or more examples are falsely claimed to be proof of a general conclusion. For example, when a 9/11 “debunker” claims that all high-rise controlled demolitions start at the bottom and therefore the Twin Towers were not controlled demolitions because they were top-down collapses.
A slothful induction occurs when the case for an argued effect is dismissed as a coincidence when it’s very likely not. For example, major terrorist attacks tend to have training exercises for the very type of attack that eventually happens. Those that blindly reject conspiracy theories will tend to dismiss this troubling fact as merely a coincidence.
Cherry picking occurs when only evidence supporting a desired conclusion is presented. Evidence that does not support the conclusion is ignored. For example, NIST engaged in cherry picking when it ignored eyewitness testimony of molten metal, the molten metal the color of molten iron seen dripping from the Twin Towers, the peculiar abundance of iron-rich micro spheres in the WTC dust, the very rapid and symmetrical destruction of the WTC buildings which till then was only ever seen in controlled demolitions and the FEMA report’s documentation of eutectic formations on WTC steel.
Burden of Proof
In the Burden of proof fallacy the burden of proof is shifted from the person making the claim to the person questioning the claim. For example, when asking for evidence for the official story of the WTC collapses, instead of providing this evidence believers of the official story will often instead ask for proof that it was a controlled demolition.
Argument From Ignorance
The argument from ignorance fallacy is a form of the burden of proof fallacy. It occurs when either an argument is claimed to be false because it hasn’t been proven true or claimed to be true because it hasn’t been proven false. It’s a type of false dilemma because a third option is excluded. It could also be that there has been insufficient investigation to prove the statement either true or false. For example, when Shyam Sunder states that WTC 7 was not a controlled demolition because no evidence was found of controlled demolition. NIST’s Michael Neuman however, admitted that they did not look for any such evidence.
Circular reasoning is a fallacy that occurs when the conclusion is one of the premises. A 2008 article in the Hartford Advocate contained a peculiar exchange between reporter Jennifer Abel questioning NIST’s Michael Neuman which comically illustrates this fallacy nicely:
Abel: What about that letter where NIST said it didn’t look for evidence of explosives?
Neuman: Right, because there was no evidence of that.
Abel: But how can you know there’s no evidence if you don’t look for it first?
Neuman: If you’re looking for something that isn’t there, you’re wasting your time.
The thought-terminating cliché is possibly the most disturbing fallacy there is. In this fallacy a common phrase used to alleviate cognitive dissonance. It is thought-terminating when it is used to dismiss dissent or justify fallacious reasoning. Some examples commonly used by “skeptics” and the media: “That’s a conspiracy theory.”, “Meh.”, “Yawn.”
Understanding fallacies is possibly the most important tool available to dissect and counter propaganda. You can read up on other fallacies at various sites on the web. One good site is Fallacy Files.
It is extremely disturbing that current US foreign policy is largely dictated by a wholly unscientific theory that not only violates basic principles of science but that can only be supported through the use of illogic. Purported skeptic organizations like the James Randi Educational Foundation, CSI, CFI and Skeptic Magazine either directly support this shoddy uncritical thinking or indirectly support it by not admonishing its members that regularly engage in it.
1.James Lett. “A Field Guide to Critical Thinking”. Skeptical Enquirer 14 (4). (1990) http://www.csicop.org/si/show/field_guide_to_critical_thinking/
2. Michel Chossudovsky. “The Truth behind 9/11: Who Is Osama Bin Laden?”, Global Research (2006) http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=3198
3. Z. P. Bazant and Y. Zhou. “Why Did the World Trade Center Collapse? Simple Analysis,” J. Eng. Mech. (January 2002)
4. Carl Zimmer. “This Paper Should Not Have Been Published”, Slate Magazine (2010) http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2010/12/this_paper_should_not_have_been_published.html
5. Steven E. Jones. “Why Indeed Did the World Trade Center Buildings Completely Collapse?”, Journal of 9/11 Studies, Volume 3 (September 2006)
http://www.journalof911studies.com/volume/200609/Why_Indeed_Did_the_WTC_Buildings_Completely_Collapse_Jones_Thermite_World_Trade_Center.pdf (section 9)
6. Gordon Ross, “NIST and Dr. Bazant – Simultaneous Failure”, Journal of 9/11 Studies, Volume 11 (May 2007) http://www.journalof911studies.com/volume/200704/NISTandDrBazant-SimultaneousFailure-WTCCollapseAnalysis2.pdf
7. Crockett Grabbe, “Discussion of ‘Why the Observed Motion History of World Trade Center Towers is Smooth’ by Jia-Liang Le and Z.P. Bazant,” Journal of Engineering Mechanics (October 2012) http://www.sealane.org/writings/Bazantrpy.html
9. Robert J. Hanyok, “Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds, and the Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2-4 August 1964″, Cryptologic Quarterly, Winter 2000/Spring 2001 Edition, Vol. 19, No. 4 / Vol. 20, No. 1.: 177 http://www.fas.org/irp/nsa/spartans/chapter5.pdf
10. Robert J. Hanyok, “Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds, and the Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2-4 August 1964″, Cryptologic Quarterly, Winter 2000/Spring 2001 Edition, Vol. 19, No. 4 / Vol. 20, No. 1.
12. http://web.archive.org/web/20080430203236/http://www.hartfordadvocate.com/article.cfm?aid=5546 referenced in http://911debunkers.blogspot.ca/2011/08/my-top-10-debunker-fails.html
Michael Fullerton is a software designer based in Vernon BC Canada. His writing explores and exposes pathological skepticism and the corporate pseudo-science it tends to serve. He also has an intense interest in organizational psychopathy, or how psychopaths rise up in organizational structures of all kinds. As a pantheist he strives to be part of the movement to unify spirituality and science.